Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Street Diary

After the last post I went back and looked at the "Street Diary" I kept when I was living in NYC and I've decided to post some of the entries below. My intent keeping this diary was just to write down overheard conversations or scenes of small everyday importance. I started out calling it a "Subway Diary" but I expanded it to any public area, especially streets. I was fascinated by encounters and interactions between strangers (or not) in the streets of the city and on public transportation.

All you really need to know to understand what follows is that I lived in Brooklyn in a Russian/Orthodox Jewish neighborhood and I worked in midtown Manhattan. A Yeshiva (if you haven't seen Yentl) is an Orthodox Jewish school.

July 15, 1997 Greenwich Street between Canal and Spring St., Manhattan, 6:30 pm

Written (painted) across a building: WATER SPILLED FROM SOURCE TO USE. Next door, a wooden board rests on the sidewalk – COOKBOOKS.

The door (a house) is propped open with a small brass teapot. Red carpet, start of a wall of books half-visible.

Across the street, faintly visible, with imagination, painted on the side of the building -- Fletcher's Castoria.

August 1, 1997 F train to Brooklyn 5:10 pm

The girl next to me, smartly dressed (beige dress, silk scarf), lanky hair behind her ears, smooth, bright face, asked: “Can you tell me approximately how long it will take this train to get to the World Trade Center?”

“Is this the E train?” I asked.


I leaned forward to look at the sign. “No, this is the F. You’re on the wrong train.”

“How did that happen?”

“They run on the same track – the first two stations in Manhattan they’re on the same track.”

“What should I do?”

“You can change at West Fourth. Go downstairs – “

She did not understand when I said, “three or four stops,” thinking I meant the World Trade Center. “No 23rd St, 14th St, West 4th St.” She pulled out a map and I showed her, “the blue, that’s the E train. Go downstairs – I’m sorry, go upstairs.” An Asian guy in a suit, wearing glasses, carrying a briefcase was listening, he nodded now.

She put her hands to her face. “I’m so late already.” As much to him as me, “I’m meeting someone I haven’t seen in four years.”

Boredom, slightly, as we were only at 34th St – now I would either have to talk to her or interrupt myself at West 4th to remind her to get off.

When she stood up the Asian man was getting off too – “Are you going that way…” she asked.

August 15, 1997 M-1 bus, Fifth Avenue, near St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Tourists on the bus.

“Mom, look at that cathedral.”

“Gosh, that is huge.”

After a pause, she adds:

“I think that’s the one that was in a book or something.”

“Do they have any gargoyles?” the boy says, and repeats, “gargoyles?…gargoyles?…”

October 11, 1997 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn

Homeless man lying on a bench under a thick red blanket (coat?). Calls out to me:

“What time is it?”

“Three o’clock.”

November 13, 1997 Fifth Avenue E/F station (upstairs) 5 pm

The way was blocked.

“The platform is full,” one of the MTA workers said. No one could hear. “Both platforms?” A man with an Indian accent said angrily, “I can assure you the platform to Queens is not crowded.” The MTA guy ignored him. A woman pushed through. “They are not letting anyone through – I can’t wait!” she cried.

“But people are coming up! You should let people through as people come up!”

“Come on – I’ve got sitters to pick up!”

“I can assure you,” the Indian man said again, “The platform to Queens is not crowded.”

“Assure us?” a voice said.

“Yes, I can assure you! I will bet you 100 dollars! 100 dollars! Do you want to bet 100 dollars? Do you have 100 dollars in your pocket right now?”

When I got downstairs the platform was as near to deserted as I have seen in weeks.

November/December 1997 Wednesday nights, 18th Ave./Newkirk Ave. B8 bus stop, Brooklyn

Yeshiva boys. They pace the sidewalk, talking so fast you can hardly understand them. And then an odd word comes up – “Flubber” – for instance. Once one said in a mocking voice, “uh…what’s nudity?” and the one beside him sniggered. Last week a car drew up and the woman on the passenger side said: “Where are you going?”

“47th and 18th.”

“Well, we will take – I don’t know how many will fit – but we will take –"

Four piled in, one came out. Off the car went.

“Benny got a ride with a stranger.”

December 15, 1997 1 pm

One of those stray sentences you hear sometimes, floating, on the street. In front of Archiva, Madison and 75th Street – a middle-aged woman, barely seen, behind me, looking at the window display.

“Books have come so far."

June 16, 1998 10 pm, cab across the Brooklyn Bridge

Jostling in traffic. A man in a sport utility vehicle refused to let the cab into his lane. Rolling down the window he said, “You do it to me all the time.” The driver (Russian?), a middle-aged man, began muttering, “What’s the hurry? We’re all going to the same place…” (I thought he meant across the Brooklyn Bridge) “…six feet under, right?”


Elle Strauss said...

What a cool idea--so interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Mary Aalgaard said...

Great collection of dialogue. I'm right there with you. The crowds, the noise, the confusion, the questions, the interactions.